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Legislator’s electoral plan catches RNC’s ear

The Associated Press
DomPileggi
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi talks with a Tribune Review reporter in his office in Harrisburg on Wednesday, May 9, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
DomPileggi
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi talks with a Tribune Review reporter in his office in Harrisburg on Wednesday, May 9, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

HARRISBURG — The national GOP is keeping an eye on state Senate Republican leader Dominic Pileggi’s effort to change the way Pennsylvania counts its votes in presidential elections.

Pileggi caused a stir last fall when he proposed abandoning the method 48 states use to award their Electoral College votes: The statewide election winner gets all the electoral votes.

Because Democratic President Obama beat Republican nominee Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania — by 5 percent of the 5.7 million ballots cast in the Nov. 6 election — the state’s 20 electoral votes were folded into Obama’s re-election total.

Pileggi argues that the winner-take-all system is inherently unfair because the losing party — that’s been the GOP in presidential elections going back to 1992 in Pennsylvania — gets no credit in the electoral count.

Nationally, the Republican Party is in a strong position to change the laws and chip away at the Democrats’ advantage in major battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Democrats carried all three states in the past six presidential elections but they are run by Republican governors and legislatures.

A spokesman for the Republican National Committee called such proposals “state matters.”

“We’re aware that a few states are re-examining how their electoral votes are allocated and we’ll continue to monitor” the situation, said the spokesman, Ryan Mahoney.

Pete Lund, Michigan’s House Republican whip, said next year is an opportune time to renew the push for his bill to award two electoral votes to the statewide winner and allocate the rest based on results in each congressional district — the method used by Nebraska and Maine.

The 2016 election “is still a few years away, and no one knows who the candidates are going to be,” said Lund, whose original bill went nowhere last year.

Pileggi advanced a similar proposal in Pennsylvania last fall, but it split state GOP leaders and faded into oblivion well before the state’s April presidential primary.

Still, as recently as this week’s meeting of Pennsylvania’s electors, more than one Democrat singled it out for criticism as an unfair, partisan ploy that would have given Romney as many as 13 of the 20 votes, even though Obama won the popular vote.

“If you’re going to change it across the country all at one time … that’s one thing,” said Democratic state Treasurer Rob McCord, one of the 20 electors. “If you’re going to take a major swing state and say we’re going to take a minority of the votes and get a majority of the Electoral College votes, that seems wrong with an uppercase ‘W.’ ”

Pileggi’s latest proposal, which he plans to introduce as legislation next year, is similar to his original plan, but is not tied to the ever-shifting congressional districts that reflect political pressures within the state. It would award two electoral votes to the statewide winner and divide the rest between the candidates in proportion to their share of the statewide vote.

Had that system been in place this year, Obama would have garnered 12 electoral votes and Romney would have received eight, according to Pileggi’s office.

“This was a way to ensure that whoever wins statewide will get a majority of the electoral votes,” said Erik Arneson, spokesman for the Delaware County lawmaker.

Arneson said his boss has not discussed the proposal with national party leaders.

“He’s focused on Pennsylvania,” he said. “If other people want to pursue it, we think it makes sense nationally.”

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